If I was able to canonize three musical saints, it would be Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop. When you are a odd ball teenager, growing up in a very suburban New Jersey of the 1970s, all three of them spoke volumes that it was alright to be weird, dangerous and angry. Sadly, only Iggy is left now and I hope he hangs on for a few more years; I’m really not over the death of Bowie yet.
“Nightclubbing” is one of the highlights of Iggy’s The Idiot album, his first collaboration with David Bowie. While the album itself wasn’t predominately recorded at Hansa No 1 studio, it falls sonically within the Berlin period of Iggy’s and Bowie’s careers. The disc itself was such a touchstone for alternative and industrial rock acts afterwards; it’s been cited as an influence for artists as varied as Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees, Peter Murphy, the Cars and yes, Oasis. Fans have argued (reasonably) that its not indicative of Iggy Pop’s overall work–but I think its still very much in the vein of what makes Iggy Pop so remarkable and great as a musical act.
The song itself is a bit of a flipside to the frantic “Lust for Life”. While “Lust” is a manic, speed freak drive of excitement through trendy chemical amusements and sex, “Nightclubbing” seems to drip decadence, boredom and exhaustion all that the same time. The singer is jaded beyond belief, stumbling from club to club, going through the motions, never really finding satisfaction in “new faces” or “new dances”. The drum machine rhythm underlines this, its relentlessly plodding, never wavering like someone on autopilot, chemically doused to the gills. The story goes that Bowie wanted to replace the drum machine with a real drummer; I’m glad Iggy won that artistic battle.
I can just visualize Iggy and Bowie meandering aimlessly through the streets of Berlin when I hear this song. And if you ever take to wandering the streets of the Kreuzberg district at night, it makes a great soundtrack to your travels, bringing a slightly vampiric quality to your nightime stroll.
One of the artists that would take inspiration from The Idiot and “Nightclubbing” would be Trent Reznor. It wasn’t until years later, when my iPhone shuffled up “Nightclubing” back to back with Nine Inch Nails “Closer”, that I realized the drum beat of “Closer” was a direct sample of “Nightclubbing”. Reznor did a version of “Nightclubbing” with Peter Murphy that only seems to exist on YouTube; I would love to have him record this on an album someday.
The song has been covered also by Grace Jones on her album of the same name and by the Human League, a version that sounds a bit too forced in my personal opinion. But for me. Iggy’s version stands as the definitive version, a tongue in cheek song to the dangers of excess and world-weariness.